Ortiz, Evans take odd road to Philly, UFC 133

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Ortiz, Evans take odd road to Philly, UFC 133

Its safe to say that come Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, both Rashad Evans and Tito Ortiz will be a far more concerned with whom theyre fighting rather than where.

Both Evans and Ortiz enter their bout at UFC 133 under unconventional circumstances. Evans, 31, hasnt fought in 14 months, his last fight a victory over Quinton Rampage Jackson on May 29, 2010.

Ortiz, one of UFCs original stars and a mixed martial arts pioneer, had lost five consecutive bouts dating back to 2006 before tapping out Ryan Bader on July 2 in a victory that revitalized the 36-year-olds sputtering career.

So Evans (20-1-1) will arrive in Philly coming off the longest fight layoff, he said, of his life and after a hectic lead up to a fight in which he saw his opponent change four times.

Im very anxious to get back in the cage. Its been a long 14 months, Evans said in a conference call last week. I had no idea I was going to be out this long, but things happen and circumstances arise.

Meanwhile, Ortiz (17-8-1) gets an out-of-nowhere shot at one of the light heavyweight divisions top contenders in Evans a mere five weeks after his last appearance in the octagon with less than four weeks to prepare.

A lot had to happen for the unlikely matchup to fall in place. The main event was originally slated to be a title bout for the light heavyweight crown, with Evans challenging champion Jon Jones. But Jones was forced to withdraw from the card with a hand injury. Then burgeoning light heavyweight Phil Davis, who was slated to fight in Joness place, hurt his knee and was scratched.

Unsure where to turn, UFC president Dana White asked Ortiz to take the fight in a last-ditch effort to create some buzz around the erstwhile title weekend. Ortiz said no thanks.

It was then former champion Lyoto Machidas fight to be had, but the Brazilian reportedly asked for too rich of a purse and White declined to sign off. That opened the door for Ortiz to change his mind. After some time to consider, he took the fight, despite a clearly diminished form, but with a big name that could spur high pay-per-view purchases.

It all measures to be one odd main event when UFC makes its second appearance in Philadelphia, nearly two years to the day since UFC 101 came to the state of Pennsylvania for the first time, garnering a 3.55 million gate.

Then, in August of 2009, UFC drew a crowd of 17,411 to South Philly. At the time White lauded the town as one of the great fight cities in the country, in a place where fans are infamous for their tough and gritty nature.

Now, Ortiz is drawing on a familiar Philadelphia fight legend to help inspire what would be a major upset against Evans.

Ive always been a huge Rocky fan, Ortiz said. Its kind of funny because, in my gym, theres guys boxing and theres a Rocky picture of him standing at the top of the Art Museum stairs. Its just does everything really happen in life for a reason? And thats my question."

He added: I think Philly is going to feed that much more emotion into me and Ive very thankful for it. I think thats one of the reasons that I did take the fight. Knowing that Im healthy and Im willing to fight, Im willing to step up.

Maybe where this fight is taking place is playing a role?

Evans, by contrast, isnt evoking much spirituality when it comes to this fight. After all, Saturday was supposed to mark his chance at regaining the light heavyweight title, a belt he last held in 2009 when he fell in the second round to Machida. So, it would seem, a last minute replacement fight with a fading star would lack some luster for Evans.

But if Evans defeats Ortiz, that title shot with Jones is certain to be his next fight. He must first cross the Ortiz bridge.

Asked if the fights location was something Evans considered, he replied that he has never before been to Philadelphia. Evans, however, commented on the importance of atmosphere in a fight venue.

Its great to be fighting in a city that has that great fighting history because then, those fans, they get up for it and it makes it that much easier to me to get up for the fight when I got to go out there because you can feel the energy, Evans said. Right when I walk out, and do that long walk to the cage, the energy that I get the minute that curtains raised, the minute they play that music and the fans are just going crazy, thats the energy I take when I go into that cage.

And its very important. And having a city like Philly, with that great fight history, will definitely bring me at my highest before I step into that cage.

It will be the second time Ortiz and Evans square off, the last fight resulting in a draw in 2007. In that bout, Ortiz was hit with a point deduction, a penalty that proved pivotal and allowed the bout to conclude without a victor. Its a result that has tormented Evans for years.

I felt horrible about the performance, he said. I felt horrible about the performance for years. Its one of those fights you just want to get back.

Evans will have a chance to exercise those demons in mere days. Ortiz, meanwhile, is tapping into 14 years of experience and residual confidence in an attempt to keep his comeback tour alive.

Ortiz said Thursday that he believes his primary advantage over Evans is his heart; the same iconic quality that drove the fabled story of Rocky Balboa. He said he wouldnt have accepted the fight if he didnt think he could win it.

I think Im capable of it, Ortiz said of his winning chances, and I know Im capable to do it in Philly.

E-mail Evan Burgos at eburgos@comcastsportsnet.com

Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

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Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

As the Western Conference Finals are taking place in Oakland, the Sixers are looking for new talent of their own in California.

This week, members of the Sixers' front office are attending pre-draft workouts organized through multiple agencies, including BDA Sports Management, CAA Sports, Landmark Sports Agency, Octagon and Wasserman Media Group.

While the Sixers hold the No. 1 pick, these workouts are opportunities for them to evaluate players that could be fits for their 24th and 26th selections.

On Thursday, the list of workout participants included projected first-rounders Deyonta Davis (Michigan State) and Cheik Diallo (Kansas), according to the Philadelphia Inquirer

The scouting process takes NBA teams coast to coast. Earlier this week, the Sixers reportedly attended a private workout with Excel Sports Management in New York City, in which Brandon Ingram and Jamal Murray participated.

The Sixers have held two workouts at their own practice facility, bringing in a total of 12 prospects thus far.

As the draft nears, 57 early-entry candidates withdrew their names from the 2016 draft.

NBA Playoffs: Stephen Curry, Warriors fight off elimination

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NBA Playoffs: Stephen Curry, Warriors fight off elimination

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry scored 31 points, raising his arms in the early moments to awaken Golden State's raucous crowd, and the defending champion Warriors staved off elimination with a 120-111 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.

The MVP made a snazzy layup late and dished out six assists, while Klay Thompson added 27 points as Golden State sent the best the best-of-seven series back to Oklahoma City for Game 6 on Saturday night. Golden State trails 3-2 and is trying to become just the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit.

"We're not going home! We're not going home!" Curry yelled at the top of his lungs in the waning moments.

Kevin Durant scored 40 points and Russell Westbrook added 31 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and five steals for the Thunder, trying for the fifth NBA Finals appearance in franchise history and chasing just the second championship after the 1978-79 Seattle SuperSonics won it all.

The record-setting, 73-win Warriors, coming off their first back-to-back defeats all season, had been blown out in two losses at Oklahoma City by a combined 52 points.

Durant's 3-pointer with 4:34 left got the Thunder within 103-98, then Curry answered with a three-point play.

Curry scored seven points in a 58-second stretch of the second quarter, but the Thunder didn't go away easily.

Trailing 58-50 at halftime, Oklahoma City came out of the break with a 9-2 run. Westbrook's 3-pointer with 6:06 left in the third put Oklahoma City ahead 68-67 for its first lead of the night. But Golden State led 81-77 going into the fourth and began the final period by scoring five unanswered points.

Curry shot 9 for 20 and also had five steals, while Thompson had his 11th 20-point game for the second straight postseason despite shooting 2 for 9 from 3-point range. Draymond Green had 11 points and 13 rebounds.

Steve Kerr thought his Warriors might have an edge against the percentages of teams having trailed 3-1 because they're the defending champs and were playing at home, where they have been nearly unbeatable.

Kerr called for center Andrew Bogut to do more and the 7-footer delivered with a playoff career-high 15 points and 14 rebounds for his second double-double this postseason and seventh of his career.

Marreese Speights had a pair of three-point plays on follow shots and a 3 in the second quarter to give Golden State a nice lift off the bench. He had nine points in four minutes during that stretch and 14 points overall for his fifth double-digit scoring game this postseason.

With his 1,248th career postseason point in the third, Curry passed Wilt Chamberlain (1,246) for second place on the franchise's playoff scoring list.

Kerr's message
Coach of the Year Kerr sent a message to Warriors fans Wednesday on social media requesting they arrive on time Thursday and bring their best.

The always-raucous supporters obliged.

"It's a big game. We need our crowd behind us," Kerr said beforehand. "We know they'll be here, and the 6 o'clock start makes things difficult for a lot of people to get here on time. So the first couple games we had a pretty late-arriving crowd. So it's kind of a reminder to be here early, if possible."

Tip-ins
Thunder: The franchise lost in the finals in 1977-78, 1995-96 to Kerr and the Chicago Bulls and in `12. ... Steven Adams sat down with his second foul at the 9:34 mark of the first quarter. The Thunder had seven fouls to Golden State's one after the first. ... Oklahoma City took Game 1 at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost only three times all season. ... The Thunder started the game 3 for 14.

Warriors: Green picked up his fifth technical of the postseason. He also has at least one steal in 16 straight playoff games. ... Golden State missed six of its first seven 3s. ... The Warriors supported Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager with "Sager Strong" T-shirts for sale to support awareness and research for leukemia and lymphoma, both blood cancers. ... Curry became the fifth player in franchise history with 200 postseason free throws.

Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez strikes out 12 in Marlins' win over Rays

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Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez strikes out 12 in Marlins' win over Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Jose Fernandez struck out 12 in seven innings Thursday and won his sixth straight start for the Miami Marlins, a 9-1 decision over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Fernandez (7-2) struck out eight of the last 10 batters he faced and struck out every hitter in the Rays lineup at least once. The 23-year-old right-hander from Tampa gave up six hits in beating his hometown Rays for the first time in three tries. He finished the game with 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings, highest among major league starters.

Adeiny Hechavarria and Chris Johnson homered for the Marlins, who won three of four in their annual series against the Rays.

Hechavarria's third home run drove in the final two runs of a three-run second inning off Rays starter Drew Smyly. Johnson made it 5-0 with his second homer an inning later, Johnson's first hit in 22 interleague at bats (see full recap).

Rockies silence Red Sox, Bradley's hit streak
BOSTON -- Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story and Dustin Garneau hit two-run homers and the Colorado Rockies stopped Jackie Bradley Jr.'s 29-game hitting streak with a 8-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night.

The win ended a three-game losing streak by Colorado and it ended a four-game winning streak for the Red Sox. Bradley's major league-best streak was halted when he went 0 for 4 after moving up to the leadoff spot for the first time this season.

Jon Gray (2-2) gave up a two-run home run to David Ortiz in the first, but pitched six scoreless innings before leaving in the eighth.

Clay Buchholz (2-5) took the loss. He pitched three perfect innings before things came apart in the fourth, when he gave up Gonzalez's homer with the other two coming the following inning (see full recap).

Happ leads Blue Jays past Yankees
NEW YORK -- J.A. Happ pitched seven strong innings, Edwin Encarnacion and Devon Travis had two-out RBIs, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Yankees 3-1 on Thursday to win the three-game series.

CC Sabathia was the tough-luck loser for New York, allowing just two unearned runs. Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in his first game since going on the disabled list May 4 with a strained right hamstring.

Happ (6-2) allowed one run on three hits in seven innings with five strikeouts and three walks. He has given up three earned runs or fewer in 19 of his last 20 starts.

Sabathia (3-3) retired the first seven batters before an error by shortstop Didi Gregorius on Travis' grounder with one out in the third (see full recap).